March 21. A hectic day was what I had to look forward to when I awoke this morning. I immediately dressed and showered, then set off into the markets to buy various souvenirs for my friends and family. I bought scarfs, ninja stars, incense, tea and several other items. The time I had spent practicing my bargaining skills had paid off, as well as my Chinese lessons, for I was usually able to cut the price down to a quarter of what the merchants originally gave. However, the bargaining took longer than I thought and it was almost noon before I had bought all the items I needed. I scarfed down a breakfast of eggs, bacon, bread, and cheese (which I made into a classic bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich) and drank a Chai tea, which brought new life back into my throbbing head.
From there I scrambled up my items and, with Leung’s help, shipped a package home. Even last month I had realized that my suitcase was bulging with unnecessary items so it was necessary to pay the 180 yen ($30) to send a package home. Almost an hour and a half had passed when the postwoman finally cleared all my items to be shipped away. I tore out of the post office with Leung on my heels and came to a barber shop. This took more time than normal because I was wary of the barbers in China, but again with Leung’s help I was able to get the exact cut that I wanted.
I ran back home and sent a few emails and had just finished when Erik told us that we needed to have dinner before heading to the monastery. We ate at Café De Jack again, which we eat half our meals from. I ordered a massive dinner, partly because I had only eaten one meal today, but mostly because the monastery only provides vegan food. I shoveled down a 9 inch pizza, a beefsteak with fries and an egg, and finished it off with a fresh oatmeal cookie from the bakery.
Beyond bloated, I lugged my suitcase onto a taxi and set out towards the monastery. It was only a bumpy 15 minute drive from Dali, but it was as secluded as any Buddhist temple. It was slightly dark when we arrived so I could only make out the outlines of the temple and the surrounding area. We walked down several steps and came through the opening of the large front doors. A boy no older than 13, wearing a headlamp, greeted us upon entering the temple and I introduced myself in Chinese saying Wo xing Mack, Wo jiao Jimmy. He laughed at my pronunciation and in good English said “Come this way everybody, you need to sign in.” I was slightly embarrassed to notice that his English is better than my Chinese. However, I studied for only 3 weeks where he has probably been studying for a few years.
The boy led us over to the sign-in book and we wrote down our information near candlelight. I even signed my name in Chinese, which pleased the boy. Then we were handed the temple etiquette, which was simple, yet strict. For example, it stated that no food can be left in your bowl; if you drop food you must eat it, no sexual contact, and above all no insulting the master. Leung and Erik wouldn’t be staying with us on this leg of the journey, though they probably will visit from time to time. So we said our farewells and it amused me to see Erik’s look of longing as he gazed around at the outlines of the surroundings.
Then the boy led us to our rooms separately because the girls are not allowed to be in the boy’s dormitory and vice versa. As you may have guessed, there is no power in the temple and obviously no Wi-Fi, which might make blogging a bit tricky, but I will figure out something. The boy gave us a thermos of water and said goodnight. Thirsty, I gulped down some water, but gasped and sputtered when the boiling liquid ran down my throat. I guess that must be the way they purify the water here. I’m not going to complain. Better safe than sorry. We are now stretching out on our beds, eager to sleep so we can experience tomorrow, though the vegan meals might prove to be a heavy obstacle to overcome for 5 days.